Did you get to see Ali declare Ovaltine the greatest...?

Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, signed autographs and met the public in the supermark

Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, signed autographs and met the public in the supermarket T. W. Downs in St. Stephens, Norwich. c12519 pic used in nch mercury 22nd october 1971 m17191-42. - Credit: Archant

It was the day the 'greatest' came to Norwich and described the people he met as the 'most civilised' during his whistle stop tour of the country to promote the much-loved night cap Ovaltine.

Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, signed autographs and met the public in the supermark

Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, signed autographs and met the public in the supermarket T. W. Downs in St. Stephens, Norwich. c12519 pic used in nch mercury 22nd october 1971 m17191-42. - Credit: Archant

This was October of 1971 when hundreds of men, women and children packed St Stephen's where the man who 'floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee,' Muhammad Ali, was putting in an appearance at the T W Downs supermarket.

Were you there? Did you get to meet one of the most talented and best loved sporting idols of all time? Perhaps get his autograph or a signed tin of Ovaltine?

If so, a television company, making a film for The One Show on BBC1 about the tour, would love to hear from you straight away.

They are trying to track down people who were there when Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, arrived in the city with his own small band of ' Ovalteenies' for company.

Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, signed autographs and met the public in the supermark

Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, signed autographs and met the public in the supermarket T. W. Downs in St. Stephens, Norwich. c12519 pic used in nch mercury 22nd october 1971 m17191-42. - Credit: Archant


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Our report of his visit told of huge crowds who gathered in St Stephen's to catch a glimpse of the great man, then the former world heavyweight champion, who was never short of words and was always worth listening to.

As you can imagine there was plenty of jostling and bumping around the big-talking American as he signed as many autographs as he could.

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Norwich was the last leg of his tour promoting Ovaltine which had taken him across this country and even to Nigeria and he told our reporter: ' Most places have mobbed us, pushed the policemen over and become uncontrollable. Here I haven't been shoved around. That shows how civilised the people are. It is the most civilised place I have been to.'

In the supermarket Ali, dressed in a white jacket and blue slacks, cracked jokes with fans and clench his famous right hand – watched by some 22 policemen and about the same number of security men, keeping an eye on the greatest.

The lucky ones got close enough for a chat, a friendly touch, an autograph. A baby threw a playful punch as Ali tickled his tummy, watched by mum and dad, a girl gave him a hug. They were in the company of a true superstar...and a gentleman.

After about an hour signing autographs he was whisked away to the Castle Hotel where he gave a press conference once again singing the praises of Norwich saying the tour gave him the chance to see Britain's 'little country towns.'

He said that before the tour he hadn't realised how many people were interested in him.

One man who did get too close for comfort to Ali was former Norwich police officer the late Alan Brown.

He told me years later how he was on duty helping to look after the boxer and escort him from the supermarket down to the Castle Hotel. 'The first thing he said to me is 'where's your rod?' I told him we didn't carry guns.'

Alan said he helped to guide Ali through the crowds and into the lift at the hotel. 'As soon as he saw himself in the mirror he started shadow boxing. I couldn't believe how fast the punches were.

'Every time he threw one his elbow came back and hit me in the stomach. I didn't think it wise to complain but I was black and blue the next day,' laughed Alan.

He remembered Ali as a kind, caring and very intelligent man who charmed the people of Norfolk that day. 'He was also wearing pink suede shoes. They looked outrageous but no-one said anything,' added Alan, a much loved Norwich detective who died a few years ago.

Ali went on to become heavyweight champion of the world again after his brief but memorable visit to the city and proved, many say, to be THE greatest boxer of all time.

There has never been anyone else quite like him.

Today this extraordinary man, now in his early seventies, is living with Parkinson's and our thoughts are with him and his family.

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